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Battery fires from discarded electronics on the rise, study warns

Fire chiefs and recycling campaigners have warned that fires caused by discarded batteries in electricals are on the rise, causing damage and spikes in air pollution levels.

According to a study by Material Focus, which leads the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, battery fires in bin lorries and at waste sites have risen by more than 70% since 2022, with more than 1,200 estimated to have occurred last year.

It said that the steep rise in the number of portable electrical items containing lithium-ion batteries being bought and used by the public was leading to an increased risk of fires, with the study indicating that 1.6 billion batteries were thrown away last year, including 1.1 billion containing lithium-ion batteries.

Found inside most common portable electronics, including laptops, phones, tablets, earpods and vapes, lithium-ion batteries can be crushed or damaged if not recycled and instead end up in bin lorries or waste sites – which can lead to fires.

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Alongside the campaigners, the National Fire Chiefs Council noted that lithium-ion battery fires can be particularly dangerous to the public, waste site workers and firefighters because of the risk of chemical exposure and reigniting as they can generate their own oxygen.

Mark Andrews, waste and recycling fires lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “Fires involving waste have always been challenging but lithium-ion batteries add significantly to this by creating unknown and unpredictable risks.

“These fires can be explosive and spread rapidly with the risk of reignition and toxic gasses a risk to firefighters. These incidents also tie up large numbers of finite, fire service resources and firefighters to fully control and extinguish the fire creating further risks to the community.”

With the study indicating that incidents of battery fire are on the rise, Recycle Your Electricals executive director, Scott Butler, urged the public to consider the consequences of not properly disposing of electricals and batteries.

“With more and more products containing lithium-ion batteries, and battery fires on the rise, it’s vital that we stop these fires and reduce the air pollution impact that they have on our local communities and the dangers they present to firefighters and waste officers,” he said.

“We are also throwing away some of the most precious materials on the planet which are vital to our economy.

“We are calling on everyone to make sure that they never bin and always recycle their electricals and their batteries. Just search recycle your electricals to find your nearest drop off point.”